Scaffolds are invaluable tools for painting contractors, especially when working on exteriors.  While many painters still use ladders to paint interiors and exteriors, working at a height on an extension ladder can be slow and dangerous compared with the increased working space and stability provided by scaffolding.

Deciding whether to buy or rent scaffolding depends on your budget and other factors, but if you specialize in exterior painting or do a lot of interiors with higher than usual ceilings, the investment may be worth it in the long run. Rental fees add up fast, especially when renting equipment for every job site.

Types of Scaffolds

Scaffolding isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of tool when it comes to painting equipment, which will become obvious when exploring your options. However, most scaffolding falls into one of three basic categories, each of which is best for specific applications.

Supported Platform Scaffolding: This is the most common type of scaffolding. It supports an elevated wood or metal platform. The scaffolding is supported by a frame of metal poles and both sit directly on baseplates or wheels.

Adjustable Scaffolding: This type of scaffolding is raised or lowered manually by using pulleys or other similar mechanical methods. Adjustable scaffolds typically include a backup safety system that supports the platform if the line fails. Pulling a mechanical lever prevents the platform from crashing to the ground by stopping the fall.

Suspended Scaffolding: Suspended platforms are exactly what they sound like they’d be. They feature the same metal or wood platforms as supported scaffolds, but the platforms are supported by lines that anchor them to the top of the building.
The type of scaffolding that’s right for your contracting business depends largely on the type and location of each project, although a basic system can be modified for different uses.  For small- scale interior jobs, some contractors prefer using portable hanging scaffolds, while contractors that specialize in larger commercial jobs may purchase large scaffolds with enough braces and rigging to support multiple crew members.

Irrespective of the type of scaffolding you choose, all are solid and easy to stabilize and use when properly assembled. The tube frames are usually made of steel or aluminum, although an expensive composite scaffolding is available for contractors who often work near overhead electric cables. Aluminum scaffolds are lowest in cost and their light weight makes them easy to move from one work area to another.

Choosing Wood Planks

Scaffold planking is the most critical component of any scaffold. More scaffold accidents and injuries are caused by inadequate or damaged planking giving way than any other cause. Don't be tempted to save money by using wooden planks from the local lumberyard or home improvement center. They tend to flex way too much and don’t meet OSHA requirements. Scaffold-grade lumber (di65) will withstand the weight and use construction-grade wood can’t handle.

Steel, aluminum and laminate are also available, but the cost for all is typically higher than scaffold-grade planks.

Scaffold Safety

Since safety should first be your concern, never neglect to keep to safety rules contained in the manual for the painter’s scaffold. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate the construction and use of scaffolding.

The OSHA rules for using scaffolds do not allow scaffolds to be placed on other type of grounds other than solid and stable surface. Never assemble scaffolds on loose grounds, loose bricks or stacked concrete blocks; doing that will be in direct violation of the OSHA safety codes.

Investing in a scaffold is a good idea if the bulk of your work requires you have safe access to tall exteriors or high ceilings and walls. With the large variety of scaffolds on the market, choosing one that will best serve your needs will take some time and research, but it’s worthwhile. Your your team should always feel safe when working at height.